Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Monday, July 29, 2019

Jesus and Individuals

Jesus and Individuals

Over the summer here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, there are a lot of folk coming and going, myself included. Youth conferences, camps and vacations all take us out of our usual routine. While most of the year I preach on the lectionary passages (a selection of readings that follow a three year pattern) this summer I'm stepping away and preaching a series about the way Jesus acted with individuals, both “solitary individuals” and “individual groups of folk.”

It is interesting to see how “Up close and personal” His ministry truly was. He had a way of challenging those who were outside of the Kingdoms guidelines, while at the same time welcoming those who thought the Kingdom was beyond their reach.

This past Sunday we were looking at a passage where Jesus went to the house of Simon, a Pharisee. (Sermon here). While there, a woman, whose name we never learn, but seems to be in great need, anoints His feet with her tears and drys them with her hair. Jesus chastises Simon for not truly welcoming Him to his home. On the other hand, He offers to the woman, forgiveness and dignity. (Luke 7:36-50)

Next week we'll be thinking about encounters Jesus has with a group of religious folk known as the “Scribes” and with His own family, who seem to want Him to give up on His crazy mission and come home. (Mark 32:20-30).

The Scribes receive a stern warning. That if they take such a careless attitude towards the things of God, that they though the actions of Jesus to be rooted in evil, they were in deep trouble. They only had to look around them. To see that person restored to a right mind. To talk with that person who had now received healing. These good works were the work of God's Holy Spirit. To call it anything else put their souls in peril.

The family of Jesus are invited to see that He was who He was. He could not be limited by the constraints of family, because His mission was so much more than the redemption of any one person, tribe or nation. Foolish as that may seem right then, eventually, they would understand.

Such passages are truly a challenge to us as individuals... and as church communities. We are often influenced more by the unspoken understandings of our communities and 'tribes' than we realize. We can be blind to the implications of our actions and sometimes need the words of Jesus to challenge us in an “Up close and personal” manner.

May God continue to guide us and renew us! Wherever the summer months lead us, may we take time to discover new insights and take on fresh challenges.

For some music “Changing Me” by Anna Golden

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 8, 2019

To Mars and Beyond

Last weeks musings and music focused on Paul's letter to the Galatians and themes of faith and freedom. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This weeks blog takes us out of this world.

We are going “To Mars and Beyond.” Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian it is time for our annual Vacation Bible School program. We have a fired up group of volunteers ready to lead our youngest ones through a week of stories, songs, fun and games.

This years theme takes a look at a number of key bible figures who demonstrated a trust in God that went beyond the ordinary. Many of us are familiar with these stories from our own childhood or attendance at Sunday School.

Daniel trusts God for protection as he is thrown into the lions den. Queen Esther takes a brave stand to save her people from destruction. A Good Samaritan goes out of his way to help a man he recognized as being his neighbor. Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one actually takes the time to say thanks. Two men on a road to Emmaus have a close encounter of the resurrection kind.

One of the huge challenges facing the Christian church is that of educating children in biblical knowledge. They are not going to get that in public school. Church and State are kept at a distance. Many families no longer participate in regular church attendance. Unless parents share these bible stories within their home environment, many children will remain unaware of these great accounts of faith. Vacation Bible School offers us a wonderful opportunity to reach out and share.

I can't speak for anybody else, but the older I get, the more I treasure some of these stories. Over time they have burrowed their way into my spirit and been a source of both comfort and challenge. There have been occasions in my life when I have felt like Daniel facing the lions. Insurmountable obstacles came along that only God could get me through. Esther's story of choosing to do the right thing, rather than the easiest thing, is a constant reminder that we are to live with integrity.

In a world that continues to be torn apart by intolerance and prejudice, the story of the Good Samaritan reminds me that every person in need is a neighbor worthy of help and love. That leper who came back to say “Thank You” reminds me to daily count my blessings. Those men on the Emmaus Road who encounter Jesus, but don't at first recognize Him, awaken me to keep my eyes open to the unexpected presence of God in my daily life, particularly when I am feeling despondent or hopeless.

I often think that those of us leading these events get more out of the proceedings, than those we seek to lead. As we look together at these familiar stories, often new insights come along and we see things we had never seen before. Jesus hinted that out of the mouths of little ones can sometimes come great truths. Or as somebody else has expressed “Kids say the darndest things!” He also said that unless we became as little children we can never enter the Kingdom of God.

So we are looking forward to a busy, yet inspiring week. Following V.B.S. I'll be part of the leadership team for the Trinity Youth Conference, an event not for little ones, but for High School and College age youth. A whole different experience, but much needed and a wonderful blessing. I'll let you know how that went when I return! Wherever the next few weeks may be leading you, may you know God's love and experience God's presence.

For some music, a song that features as part of this years V.B.S. Curriculum and has been sung at many a worship time during the Trinity Youth conference...“God of Wonders.” The version posted is performed by “Third Day.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Faith and Freedom

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are concluding our short series of sermons on the biblical book of Galatians. Last week we were considering the topic of “Faith and Fear.” Our sermon from the day can be found here. Following the nations celebration of Independence Day, this coming Sunday we take a look at the theme of “Faith and Freedom” that Paul talks about in Galatians 5:1 &13-25.

Paul had spoken to the Galatian church about the unlimited, unmerited grace of God towards people. Jesus Christ freely gave His life as an act of sacrifice, to demolish any barriers that could prevent people from being in a heart relationship with God.

Paul is concerned that some people in the church had taken things much too far. They interpreted the freedom they had found in Christ as meaning they were free to live however they pleased. What did it matter what a person did? God would forgive them. Rather like that “Get of jail free” card in a game of Monopoly, self-indulgence was no longer an issue. Some even went as far as suggesting that the more you sinned, the more you could experience God's forgiving love. A win-win situation for “do whatever please you” living!

In verse 13 Paul cautions them, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love, be servants of each other.” He points out that if they focused only on personal passion, peoples hearts would deceive them and they would end up destroying each other.

Such was not the way that the Holy Spirit guided people. “By contrast,” Paul tells them, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The Holy Spirit was the Spirit of Jesus who directed people in ways that imitated the works and words of the Savior, not the ways of a conflicted and self consuming society. Yes, Jesus set people fee, but free to serve, not to destroy!

As a nation celebrates freedom, it is worth pausing to reflect that freedom can be both a disabling and an enabling thing. If we express our freedoms in ways that deny others their own freedoms, then we are not walking the way of Jesus. Freedom of speech does not mean we should feel free to speak in a way that harms or belittles others. Freedom of expression does not mean that we should be accepting of expressions of hatred or prejudice. Tolerance does not mean that anything goes.

When musicians play “Free-Jazz” music, they recognize that there are boundaries that have to be observed. If somebody walks into a jam session with a Tuba and begins playing “Old McDonald had a farm” over and over and over and over again, then every other players freedom is destroyed. Tubas are great instruments. “Old McDonald” is a children's classic. But freedom only works where respect, understanding and boundaries are in place.

Such is the nature of freedom that the Holy Spirit seeks to bring to our church communities. Freedom to serve God, to serve each other and be vessels for the healing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This short video titled “Free to Serve” offers a short meditation on Galatians 5:13.

If you are in the Mount Hebron area, we meet at 10:00 a.m. around a table laid with bread and wine to celebrate the freedom Christ died to give to us. Feel free to join us :-)

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.